Packing light: thoughts on living life with less baggage by Allison Vesterfelt
We all have the feeling that our suitcases are a little too small even if we’ve bought the gargantuan one at JC Penny as we prepare to pack for a big trip. Shoving a mountain load of clothes into a suitcase is not the picture of packing light. In packing light, written by Allison Vesterfelt, Allison sets out on a journey on what it means to live out faith and friendship in a hectic world. Along the way, traveling nearly through 50 states, she realizes that going on a road trip with her friend Sharaya would mean giving up all that she felt attached to: apartment, job, stuff, friends and life (45). The question on the back cover of the book is one we should all face as Christians; ‘What do you need to leave behind?’ No, this book isn’t an ascetic’s dream of giving away every morsel that you own for monastic living, but it is a call to question the very stuff around you and how it fits in with the kingdom.
In the chapter entitled embracing the unexpected Allison and Sharaya start out on their road trip to the fifty states with a bang. They agreed to set up rules to keep each other from killing one another. Allison writes, “The rules would keep us safe, we thought, like a fence on a playground. They would draw a line around us and make sure no harm could get inside. They would make sure no oblivious child ran after a stray ball right in front of a speeding semi (63).” What was beautiful about this part is that friendships often unnerve us and excite us all at the same time. What one friend might think is annoying, another might be thrilled by. So, in an effort to keep the peace and remain friends after the trip, both Sharaya and Allison agreed on some travel rules. At the end of the chapter, Allison comes back to the theme of packing light by writing, “The more stuff you bring with you, the more complicated everything gets….If you pack twelve shirts and four pairs of pants, you’ll have forty-eight combinations (72).” There is no end to the complications when your stuff is in the way. Yet, there is a great difficulty here that Allison alludes to, the fact that getting rid of stuff that complicates our lives is an emotional wrestling match. We are attached to stuff in a way that we never dreamed of and giving that stuff away feels a bit like we are giving away a piece of us.
Allison circles the wagons about rules, obligations and serving later on in the book that is worth mentioning here. After her blowup with Sharaya in church, Allison focuses on the effect of rules when we follow them out of obligation or out of personal satisfaction. As her time with Sharaya commenced, she felt like a nice friend sitting at the merchandise table for her, giving Sharaya encouragement as she went on stage, then expectations changed and down went the joy (121). Allison writes, “We serve at church, or volunteer at a local charity, or reach out to someone in need. We do it not because we’re concerned about the people who need the resources we’re offering, but because it’s the “right thing” to do and we’re obsessed with being right. Suddenly, it becomes more about us than it does about them (121).” I want to provide some pushback here because at the end of the Allison rails against rule-followers and rule-breakers. She hints at looking for a motivation, a purpose for the rules we follow, but she fails to examine how some rules actually help us in our journey of faith. In other words, the virtue and vice lists from Paul’s letters are not just a good idea, but put there for our growth in godliness.
Overall, I think this journey story with Allison and Sharaya has much to offer in the way of encouragement and penetrating questions for believers.
Thanks to Moody Collective, Moody Publishers and Janis Backing for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.